The best business advice, opinion, news and expertise in Greater Manchester and further afield.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

“The weather outside is frightful……..”

By Chris Fletcher, Deputy Chief Executive, Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce

So, 2010 seems to be going out as it came in with unprecedented snow falls, sub zero temperatures and absolute chaos on the roads, rail and in the air (or the airport terminals at least). Whilst acknowledging the time of year I thought I would give my take on the last 12 months and look ahead to next year with more than a little nod to one of Charles Dickens’ all time classics – no, not “Great Expectations” but “A Christmas Carol”.

First up, Christmas past and this time last year we were seeing some recovery and increased confidence returning across most sectors, construction being the exception with performance sluggish at best. Base rate was 0.5%, VAT was set to increase by 2.5% in the New Year (sounds familiar?). There were 2.49 million unemployed, inflation was 2.9% and the UK had just come out of recession with the latest GDP figures showing some positive growth. The Regional Development Agencies were co-ordinating a huge range of organisations in delivering grant based business development schemes. Banks stood accused of not lending to business and there was much speculation about when the election would be called with all three main parties working on their manifestos.

Second, naturally, Christmas present. Well, base rate is still 0.5% (just), inflation and unemployment are both creeping upwards the former could continue to do so as VAT will increase on 4th January to 20%. Growth is increasing though slowly but business confidence has stalled somewhat with many businesses uncertain about what the next 12 months will hold and trying to assess what impact recent economic policy decisions will have. The biggest change though has been in the political landscape with a coalition government calling the shots albeit with a limited supply of ammunition as economic reality collides with the desire for change and the aspirations set out in both Conservative and Lib Dem pre-election manifestos.

The RDAs have a definite shelf life with a use-by date set at March 2012. Local Enterprise Partnerships will replace them but so many questions still remain as to what impact this will have on the ground. A flurry of activity between the Comprehensive Spending Review in October and the end of the year saw a succession of white papers and consultations that will fundamentally shift important elements of business support and how business will be able to grow. As we close 2010 down many people are still unsure as to what the future will hold.

To help with this and to keep in with the whole “Christmas Carol” theme let’s look into the future and Christmas yet to come.

Well, sorry to disappoint but I’m not one to break the habit of a lifetime by trying to forecast what things will look like in 12 months and give predictions on a whole range of economic data.

What I will say though is that more than ever in uncertain times the Chamber will be there to support you and we will be focussing on several priority areas in 2011 that if delivered will set the right environment and conditions for businesses to grow. Amongst other issues we will be calling for guaranteed delivery of local transport improvements to finally give Greater Manchester the transport system it deserves; we will be calling for changes to be made to make it easier for business to hire staff; we will be looking at how better use can be made of business rates to make sure investment happens in the right way and in the right place and all the while we will be keeping our finger on the economic pulse through the Quarterly Economic Survey now in its 20th year.

We will ask for your opinion and views , we will represent them to the right people and we will make calls for change.

There are, potentially, some great opportunities that lie ahead but we need you to let us know how these can be delivered in the best way, the way that benefits business.

All the very best for Christmas and New Year.

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